Tough Love – How an Indian fell in love with Arsenal

It’s easy to dismiss the current Arsenal side as underachievers and to an extent caught in the trap of a glorious past vs pressure of 7 seasons without a trophy. I’m not going to go into either of this. Today dear readers, I’m just going to write about The Arsenal.

Everyone remembers how they met their first love. The small tit-bits of conversation with friends pale in comparison to our mind at that moment of seeing him/her for the first time. The feeling of butterflies in your stomach cannot be explained in words. This is something which most fans (bar those who just jumped on the bandwagon for the heck of it) would remember. Suddenly, overnight, the fortunes of a team you see on the television start mattering more than school grades or your own love life.

Ironically, I have no idea what went through my mind when I first saw an Arsenal match. I don’t even remember how or who convinced me to watch it in the first place. India of those days had only one hero – Sachin Tendulkar. I was, ironically, the odd man out in school. When most of my classmates were talking about THAT desert storm match I was still in awe at the 5-0 thrashing of Wimbledon at Highbury. That match, I never saw on the tele. The internet was not even something we had heard of back then. Wikipedia was non-existent. I followed the match in the newspapers. I remember that I started watching football in the 97-98 season because of Zizou (my first crush). Then I saw Bergkamp. And I was hooked.

India, if you know anything about this place, is not a football country. We are currently ranked 166 in the Fifa rankings. We made it to one World Cup in the 1950s where we quit in protest because they didn’t let us play without shoes. My dad, was a university level centre half. He grew up in the port town of Tuticorin where he learnt to play the beautiful game. I was a clumsy overweight goalkeeper in school who couldn’t even get into the inter house matches in school!!! So frankly, I had no reason to love football as much as I did. But that’s the thing about love. It’s inexplicable.

Emmanuel Petit playing for Arsenal

Emmanuel Petit. Great hair, greater player

But love I did. I fell in love with everything about football (except Mike Riley). The effect was immediate. I started cheering for my school team. Tried to (and to an extent successfully) make myself into a decent level goalkeeper. But nothing, I mean nothing came even relatively close to watching an Arsenal game. I started at in a slowish pace, watching only the ‘crunch’ fixtures. It usually meant watching matches that had a collective audience of at least 10 in front of the tele (8 of whom were Manchester United fans). That’s where the annoyance at the unfair tactics of United made me the enemy number one for all United fans in college.

It is difficult to chronologically write about things which you are passionate about. For example the 97/98 season sits more fondly but the 2005/06 season is more etched in memory. The period of 1999-2003 was just a blur. I remember Thierry Henry’s goal against United but do not recall much about his 30 goal season. I remember Emmanuel Petit’s hairstyle but not much about his tackles. I remember Viera’s stamp & his penalty against United in the FA cup final shootout but none of his displays of leadership. I essentially, don’t remember most of the best years of Arsène Wenger’s reign but I still loved Wenger & Arsenal.

It’s almost like a fond tale that your grandfather has narrated to you about the wonderful things that happened when you were young. You are desperate to remember, appreciate, re-live & cherish but in reality, it all happened too early for you to recall.

Memory is a funny thing. Most people remember their most painful moments in greater clarity than the most joyous ones. The joyous ones seem to pass by too quickly whereas the regrets tend to linger. My regret of not being able to remember in great detail the golden period of Arsenal’s modern history is only surpassed by the painful defeats of recent years. The most painful of them being the defeat against Chelsea & Birmingham (the latter being more so) in the Carling Cup (now the Capital One Cup). The joy of witnessing the first goal of Theo Walcott against Chelsea surpassed by the horrendous misjudgement by Koscielny & Szczesny. Life is full of bittersweet memories for the Arsenal fan.

To be continued…!

Part time geek, full time gooner, meal time spurs, chelsea, utd & city baiter.
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